This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
Joshua 17:3 – 6
Today, we usually think that we need to change our laws or our culture in order to change people. We put a great deal of effort into arguing over what laws we should pass so that people will act the way they are supposed to act. We also think that if everyone has the right education, then our world will be all right. We don’t realize that God doesn’t do much in either of those areas. God works directly on people and seeks to change them. He then depends on the people to change the culture. If we first change the laws or the culture, then the people will constantly rebel against the laws and the culture. If the people are first changed, then they will respond well to Godly changes in the culture.
I was lucky to grow up on a farm because I had to learn to live within definite rules. When running machinery, there were rules about how to run the machinery. If you didn’t follow those rules, you could easily lose a hand or break an arm or a leg. There were also definite times when crops could be planted and another definite time when they could be harvested. Farmers did not rebel against the rules for planting and harvesting. We knew that we would not get a very good crop if we planted at the wrong time or harvested too early or too late. We learned to be comfortable working within the structure that was there.
After growing up in a farming culture with its definite rules, I could see the need of living within God’s rules for life. His laws seemed to make sense and did not bring out much rebellion in me. I was already formed to live within defined rules. God works on people to make them see the rightness of His laws and helps to implant in them a desire to live within those laws. When the Lord began to change people with the coming of the Holy Spirit, He began by changing them on the inside and only later did they begin to change the cultural rules and practices.
This method was obvious in the way Paul told Christians to work within their culture. There were strong and unjust divisions in the culture of that time. There were unjust rules of behavior for parents and children, husbands and wives, and especially for slaves and masters. The Bible certainly would not condone something like slavery; yet, God did not speak through Paul and tell the Christians to overthrow the cultural ways. He told them how to live within those ways and Christians were later the ones who brought most of the changes in the unjust cultural ways. God worked to change the people to treat each other lovingly even within an unjust system.
This incident in Joshua went completely against the culture of the time. In this incident, an inheritance was given to daughters. That was not the way it was done in that culture. I don’t think that God set it up so that only men would inherit, but it developed that way in the culture. I think God teaches us to treat each other with love, but He doesn’t specifically describe the role of a man and the role of a woman. However, various cultures do develop those sorts of rules. In this culture the land was always given to men but in this instance a man had only daughters and still desired to leave them an inheritance. This was so against the norm that it required Moses to make the exception. Even before the land was conquered, the family that had only daughters went to Moses and said that they wanted a part of the Promised Land, even though they had only daughters. Moses could not make such a dramatic choice against the culture, so he took it to God. God told him to give the women the land.
After the land was conquered, the cultural ways were so strong that those who were dividing the land had to be reminded that Moses had guaranteed these women would receive their land. Finally, the women received the land they were promised. Many cultural practices become so strong that we think they have come from God when they are actually cultural practices. Even when we learn differently from God, it is still hard to overcome those cultural practices. Roles for men and roles of women are often one of the things that get carried on culturally when God never taught them. A case for their coming from God could only very weakly be made from the Bible, if at all. A true look at the Bible would not show many gender specific roles coming from God. Most of those roles have been culturally developed and should not stay the same any more than we should continue to have slaves. There are many incidents in the New Testament when teachings began to go against the culture and this is one that happened in the Old Testament.
Pete is one of my good friends; we have worked together on many mission trips for Son Servants. After a very difficult divorce and several years of being single, Pete married Jill. Pete’s children had graduated from high school by then and Jill had an eight-year-old son. Pete had a successful small contracting business and Jill was a successful lawyer. Her son had not had a father in the house for several years and was having some trouble in school. They also wanted to remodel their house. They sought to work out the oneness of their marriage. Since Jill made a good living, they decided that Pete would stay at home and remodel their house and homeschool Jill’s son. Pete is a natural teacher and nurturer. It was not the traditional role for a husband and a wife in our society, but it worked very well in their situation. Those traditional roles were not specified in the Bible even though many Christians try to say that they are; they are really much more culturally specified.
Relationships can be worked out in many way. The central teaching of God is that we love each other. Within that, we can work out many different roles in our relationships. There are not defined roles for men and others for women. We don’t have defined roles for old people and other roles for young people. Roles can be practically worked out according to the gifts we have been given. In a marriage, two people become one and the one they become is a new creation in Christ where each person’s gifts are used to the maximum for the benefit of the new creation. I think God intends it to be that way. He wants us to be one in a marriage and one in the body of Jesus Christ. He also wants us to become one with Him. We are bound together in God’s family, using our various gifts to build each other up in our relationship to God and to each other.
The ultimate goal for all of us is to be one with God and with each other. That goal keeps cropping up in the middle of the cultural differences all through the Bible and in the incidents of God’s working with His people. In spite of our cultural differences, God is working to bring us together as one in the Body of Jesus Christ. That is the way we will live forever.